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#79242 - 12/07/06 02:09 AM Flint, steel and general firestarting
olaf_yahoo Offline
newbie

Registered: 11/26/06
Posts: 28
Loc: North Carolina
I have been experimenting with different steels to determine the best one for use with flint and magnesium bar firestarters. I have found that (should have been obvious to me) HSS steel is by far the best (contains Tungsten, Vanadium, Cobalt and Molybdenum). I have tried different knife blades from old knives, steel blanks of various alloys and scrap I have around. Even the high carbon knife blades I have produced only a moderate amount of sparks. When I used the (I believe it is called a rosetta knife, will find out for sure and take photos of this soon) rosetta knife blade the sparks were large, energetic and much hotter than when I used any other striker. As Tungsten is the hottest burning metal it would of course produce the hottest sparks, very very true. I just lit several dozen small test fires VERY easily using this steel and without using any of the magnesium off the bar.

Another advantage to using a tungsten steel striker is that the edge will retain it's hardness much longer than anything else you might use. Of course what you are using for tinder is as critical as ever and should never be forgotten. If you want to use a tungsten carbide tool for a striker you can order blanks from numerous companies online. Just do a google search for "tungsten carbide" or look for HSS tools. HSS stands for high speed steel which has tungsten in it, you can get chisels, cutters and blanks this way. Many high end wood working tools use HSS and they are not as difficult to find as you may think. An additional advantage to using such a tool is the 8 different sides to use for scraping magnesium off the bar/rod and for striking the flint. I would suggest getting a small square of HSS so you will have equal edge lengths to use, or a rectangle as it is easier to hold. You can also acquire some HSS from any local machine shop, just go and tell them you would be interested in any of their HSS scrap or a couple small blanks. Most places are more than happy to help, often times you can even get it for free so check here first, almost every city has at least one machine shop.

Back to firestarting-

When I added some magnesium to the equation (even a very small pile of only a few scrapings) using the HSS striker the magnesium started up very easily and with my tinder close at hand I had a fire going within ten seconds every single time. So in short, if you have flint and steel or a flint/magnesium bar with a steel striker as a backup means of firestarting do yourself a big favor and get the best kind of striker possible. It makes all the difference in the world.

The magnesium bar w/flint that I have did not come with a striker of it's own so I do not know about the quality of striker other firestarters come with. I ordered several firestarters from TadGear a few days ago and will test their own strikers against mine when they come in. I have doubts that the provided striker will do very well based on my own experiments this evening. Coming in a very slow second place to HSS was high carbon steel, I have blanks of 1055 and 1095 and I got less than half the amount of sparks from these as I did with the HSS. The more carbon the steel has in it as well as added elements like Vanadium, Chromium, Molybdenum and Cobalt the better it will throw a spark. Cheaper, lower carbon content steels will be very poor for use as a striker, avoid any of the soft stainless steels such as 316 or 440a, 440b. Some of the 440C knifeblades can throw a decent spark but if they are not heat treated properly their use for this purpose will be limited. Using a knifeblade as a striker is, in my opinion a last resort anyway. A knife is arguably the most important survival tool you can have so don't abuse it unless you must. If in the event your knife is the only striker you have use either the back of the knifeblade (opposite the edge ie. the part that is not sharp) or the section of the cutting edge all the way at the back. The back of a blade is not used nearly as often as the middle of the blade and it's tip so you will not miss this section being sharp as much as you will the rest of the edge.

I believe in practicing firestarting under possible survival conditions, this helps increase the realism and aids in concentrating on the task. I spent a half hour in my back yard (it is 50 degrees here right now) in only sweatpants and a t shirt practing lighting fires. All I had with me was the mag/flint bar, the striker I have been talking about and a Gerber folder. I collected all my materials from the deep creek that runs through the property and shaved twigs for my kindling. I found a large flatish rock to use as a table for keeping my magnesium shavings in one place as I scrapped them. That is an important point to touch on, if you use a mag bar use something to keep all the shavings in one place so you don't lose and waste them. Still, with the HSS striker and the very hot sparks it was throwing it was possible to get a fire going without using any scrapings at all. Despite the amount of sparks I was able to produce without making shavings, when I did use shavings it was a good deal easier to light my kindling. I was using the standard colemans rectangular magnesium bar with attached flint. When using one of these don't be afraid to get a good pile of shavings before trying to light them, there are two reasons for this. Reason one is a larger pile is easier to light, reason two is while the bar does not look very large you can get a large volume of shavings from them. I have not tried lighting a fire in the rain using the flint/steel method yet but will attempt to do so next time it rains here and let you know how it goes.
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#79243 - 12/07/06 04:30 AM Re: Flint, steel and general firestarting
ironraven Offline
Cranky Geek
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 09/08/05
Posts: 4642
Loc: Vermont
Olaf, how many more scraps of this stuff do you have?
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When a man dare not speak without malice for fear of giving insult, that is when truth starts to die. Truth is the truest freedom.

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#79244 - 12/07/06 04:45 AM Re: Flint, steel and general firestarting
olaf_yahoo Offline
newbie

Registered: 11/26/06
Posts: 28
Loc: North Carolina
If you mean HSS pieces I have three, two of which are tooling bits, one is unused and the other is partially used. The third piece is the rosetta knife. As I said if you go to any machine shop and ask if they have either high carbon scrap or High Speed Steel scrap most places will just give it to you. Most scrap comes in all shapes and sizes but as HSS is expensive to make and normally only used for tooling bits and such the pieces should be small. If you want to put lanyard holes or something in a piece that doesn't already have them you will need to have the cut with a waterjet as it is nearly impossible to drill that stuff and no machine shop will even attempt it.

If you get high carbon steel scrap you can have it machined or do the work yourself if you have the tools so you can make a striker in any size or configuration you want. You can drill it pretty easily and nearly any machine shop can heat treat it for you. While carbon steel does not spark quite as nicely as HSS it still does a great job. Coupled with being able to shape it to your needs and put a hole in it if you want for attaching to a keychain or whatever it might be your best bet.
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